Thy kingdom come is not only the theme of these weeks of prayer, but the heart of the Lord’s prayer. There are many messages to emerge out of the Gospel, but if you take Jesus’ teaching alone, the central message is the coming of God’s kingdom. Right at the beginning of his ministry, he goes through Galilee proclaiming “The kingdom of God is at hand”. And by the time his ministry ends, with the Ascension, his disciples have reached the conclusion that Jesus is himself the king to which that kingdom belongs.
To call oneself a Christian is to recognise that Jesus is the Christ – the king promised in the pages of the Old Testament who will re-establish God’s kingdom on earth, ensuring that God’s will is once more done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. And this is the background to Jesus’ teaching that we should pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
But as with all things to do with Jesus, he also subverts our earthly notions of kingship and kingdoms. “The rulers of the gentiles lord it over their subjects” Jesus says, “but it is not so with you. Rather the greatest among you must become like the least, and the leader like one who serves.” This is a king who exercises his rule by serving us; whose kingdom is about justice and unity, where greatness is found in true humility. “I tell you the truth,” he says, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
And perhaps most extraordinarily of all, this is a kingdom whose law is optional. In fact, that is the whole point. There can be no reluctant citizens of this kingdom. The greatest gift this king bestows on us is freewill. But that freewill is best exercised when we choose Jesus as our king, because to do so is to choose goodness, humility, peace, justice and truth – the very things our souls need the most.
We are, as you may have noticed, on the eve of a General Election and the would-be leaders of this nation are wrestling with how to bring about peace in the face of international terrorism. And though our response in the here and now is important, ultimately peace cannot be imposed from above. There can be no peace on earth unless we choose it, unless the hearts of every person is turned back to peace. And that, in turn, requires us to be secure; to know that there is justice; to want to love our fellow human beings; and to be willing to face the truth about ourselves. Peace cannot be imposed. Neither, ultimately can justice or truth. It can only happen if we exercise our freewill to choose it. Because it is only if we choose it out of our own hearts that we will truly live by it.
Of course, giving people choice means that many will choose other paths and at times those paths may be in the ascendant. In the face of other powers, God’s kingdom may seem fragile, limp, impotent, but in fact it is far more powerful than any force in this world. Selfishness will self-destruct and implode. Anger and violence will burn itself out. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword and when their anger is blown, what then? Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot harm the soul. But if a soul chooses truth and light, peace and justice, humility and love, nothing can extinguish it. When the hatreds of human beings have burned themselves out, faith hope and love will be seen to endure. In the end, God’s kingdom triumphs. And even in the whirlwind of battle, God’s kingdom triumphs, for these are the things that make life worth living, more than all the gold and passing power or fame this world can offer.
To pray “thy kingdom come” is to long for a different world, a better world; to long for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven; to long for a world where the meek are honoured as the great ones, where quiet humility is listened to reverently, where wisdom is valued, where the mourning are comforted and where the poor are rich. But it is also to long for hearts to be reconciled to God and to choose God’s will, not out of obligation, or fear, or grudging duty, but out of love and out of freewill. For that is what sets our souls free and enables God’s eternal life to come alive in us. To pray for justice and peace requires hearts to be re-made and minds to be re-oriented back to God. And that is why praying “thy kingdom come” requires us to pray both for peace and justice on earth and for our friends and neighbours to know and love Christ, for it is all part of the same kingdom movement by which human souls choose the life of our servant king. And if we pray that for our world and for our neighbour, then to pray “thy Kingdom come” is also to invite God into our hearts; to deal with our pride; to give us compassion; to grow a passion for justice; and to cultivate, deep in our souls, those three eternal things: faith, hope and love.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.